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© Kamla-Raj 2010

J Hum Ecol, 30(2): 85-92 (2010)

The Role of NGOs in Promoting Empowerment for Sustainable Community Development
Hedayat Allah Nikkhah* and Ma’rof Bin Redzuan Department of Social and Development Sciences, Faculty of Human Ecology, University Putra Malaysia, 43400 Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia *E-mail:
KEYWORDS Microfinance. Capacity Building. Self-reliance. Empowerment ABSTRACT This paper attempts to illustrate the contribution of NGOs towards sustainable community development. NGOs have many programs, functions and roles which assist community to become empowered, and eventually attain sustainable development. This paper reviews some of these roles, functions and programs of NGOs, such as microfinance, capacity building and self-reliance. Microfinance programs improve the economic well-being of communities by job creation and income generation. In the long run, this economic empowerment will contribute to sustainable community development. NGOs, through capacity building, develop community capacities such as ability, skill and knowledge of mobilizing resources, planning and evaluating community initiation and solving problems to gain the mastery over their lives. It also motivates the community to participate in the projects and help them to improve quality of their lives. Participants are expected to coordinate meetings, plan community activities, and be practical in community initiatives. In this way, NGOs contribute towards sustainable community development. Furthermore, NGOs mobilize the communities to be self-reliant. It assists the communities to discover their own potentials and rely on their own resources. In short, this paper demonstrates that all these programs and functions of NGOs could contribute towards the realization of sustainable community development.

INTRODUCTION In the last decade, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have gained increased attention among scholars and practitioners of development. They have become increasingly important agents of the development process in the countries of the South, in all of their main areas of work such as humanitarian relief, long-term development, policy formation and political advocacy (Attack 1999). On the other hand, there is a current view that NGOs constitute a viable alternative to government as channels of development assistance, particularly in developing countries. Some of the NGOs’ functions and advantages, according to Streeten (1997) are (1) they are good at reaching and mobilizing the poor and remote communities; (2) they help empower poor people to gain control of their lives, and they work with and strengthen local institutions; (3) they carry out projects at lower costs and more efficiently than the government agencies and (4) they promote sustainable development. In this article two aspects will be discussed, first, the relationship between NGO and empowerment as a particular virtue of NGOs, and second, the strategy and program undertaken by NGOs that contribute to sustainable community development. In other words, the purpose of this paper

is to shed some light on the NGOs’ program regarding issues of empowerment and sustainable community development. In particular, the paper seeks to highlight participation of NGOs in promoting sustainable community develop-ment. Thus, this article will review some literature regarding the NGOs’ programs, and highlight how these programs would affect community empowerment, and finally contribute to sustainable community development. LITERATURE REVIEW NGOs are professionally-staffed organizations aiming at contributing to the reduction of human suffering and to the development of poor countries (Streeten 1997). They do this in various ways, e.g. by funding projects, engaging in service provision and capacity building, contri-buting to awareness, and promoting the self-organization of various groups (Baccaro 2001). Meanwhile, Desai (2005) has mentioned that NGOs have an important role to play in supporting women, men and households, and expected that they can meet the welfare. She accounted some role and functions for NGOs, such as counseling and support service, awareness raising and advocacy, legal aid and microfinance. These ser-vices help the people to achieve their ability, skill and know-

economic and environmental factors in promoting sustainable development. Hibbard and Tang (2004) in their study in Vietnam. the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation defined it as three distinct processes. knowledge and expertise. From the literatures. through a combination of micro-credit. Finally. and it requires extensive community participation and relies on network to share resources. local production. (2) educational provision (e. coupled with the careful management and recycling of waste products. The first dimension emphasises on increasing local economic diversity. The fourth dimension focuses on the protection and enhancement of biological diversity and careful stewardship of natural resources.g. In the long term. But. they concluded that sustainable community development is process-oriented. as Bradshaw and Winn (2000) have noted. training for group members. Fowler 1993. the aim of NGOs is to promote sustainable community development through activities that promote capacity building and selfreliance. the fifth dimension is related to the commitment of the sustainable communities to social justice.of communities (Sneddon 2000). particularly in the industrialized countries. has mentioned that NGOs through capacity building help to sustain community development. In this situation. Through the functions of providing microfinance. In addition. Zimmerman and Rappaport 1988). and other social services. sustainable community development includes five dimensions. social development and environmental protection— as interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars” (United Nations 2002). Langran (2002). and perceived control (Rappaport 1987. enhance and protect the environment. Edwards and Hulme 1994. and take control over their own lives and finally become empowered. Salamon 1994) . particularly poor women. . economic and environmental . the goal of sustainable development is to find a balance between three pillars . As Bridger (1997) has mentioned. basic skills). and eventually community sustainable development. welfare. However. and promote more humane local societies (Bridger and Luloff 1997). Clark 1991. community participation. NGOs are often created in order to expand the capacities of people (Korten 1990). and (3) individual self-efficacy. Stromquist (2002) has noted three major functions for NGOs such as (1) service delivery (e. and greater cooperation among local economic entities. Finally. Empowerment is the ability of individuals to gain control socially. NGOs could promote empowerment among community members. These dimensions were originally introduced with the aim of identifying areas in which social. (2) decision making. On the other hand. Friedmann 1992. and (3) public policy advocacy. have noted the importance of NGOs’ roles in sustainable community development. it could be summarized that NGOs play an important function in promoting sustainable community development. Furthermore. Baccaro (2001) shows how particular NGOs can promote the organization and “empowerment” of the poor.g. Sustainable community development emphasizes on a balance between environmental concerns and development objectives.86 HEDAYAT ALLAH NIKKHAH AND MA’ROF BIN REDZUAN ledge. basic skills and often critical analysis of social environments). politically. sometimes the local communities lack specialists to do professional work and resources that are important for the particular projects. The third dimension involves a reduction in the use of energy. However. economic and environmental goals are interrelated (Holmberg and Sandbrook 1992). The second is self-reliance which entails the development of local markets. On the other hand. initiating capacity building and self reliance. knowledge and skills. local processing of previously imported goods. awareness-raising. of “economic development. One of the roles was that NGOs balance the social. sustainability is rooted largely in an environmental approach. But. these dimensions of sustainable development have done little to reduce the complexity of the concept and has itself introduced a contradiction. NGOs are praised for promoting community self-reliance and empowerment through supporting community-based groups and relying on participatory processes (Korten Sustainable communities meet the economic needs of their residents. while simultaneously enhancing local social relationships. Another important role of NGO that they discovered was decentralization of the central government which helps the local communities to acquire more power in order to make their own decisions. The Rio Conference interpreted sustainable development as a single process with three dimensions. sustainable development has emerged over the past few decades as an important paradigm for community development. NGO assists local staff with drafting sustainable development plans that are functional under the umbrella of a central government policy. relief. economically and psychologically through (1) access to information.

participation and empowerment. Eventually. NGOs FUNCTIONS AND SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT Fig.000000000000000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000000000 0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 Sustainable Community Development 87 000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 • Economic • Individual • Social Empowerment THE ROLE OF NGO’S IN PROMOTING EMPOWERMENT This section highlights NGOs. people are able to define their own problems and having ability and capacity to solve it through organizing and participating themselves. scholars have increasingly referred to microfinance as an effective means of poverty reduction (Rekha 1995. help the community to develop the social. Theoretical framework of the functions of NGOs in promoting sustainable community development 00000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 • Microfinance • Capacity Building • Self-reliance NGOs’ Functions During the 1990s. From this perspective. one of the most popular forms of economic empowerment for women is microfinance. 1. grassroots movements and local decision making. functions and the promotion of sustainable community development. the outcome would be sustainable community development. encourage people to participate in activities. Oxaal and Baden (1997). particularly when community is empowered. Specifically. Since the 1990s. the bottom-up approach emphasizes community participation. NGOs’ functions in community development are. According to Cheston and Khan (2002). empowerment and sustainable community development. Microfinance is defined as efforts to improve the access to loans and to saving services for poor people (Shreiner 2001). It argues that community participation and grassroots initiatives promote participatory decision making and local self-reliance (Panda 2007). capital and human resources. microfinance programs emphasize women’s economic contribution as a way to increase overall financial efficiency within national economies. (a) Microfinance and Sustainable Community Development .In bottom-up approach. Figure 1 shows the outline of the relationship between NGOs’ functions. which provides credit for poor women who are usually excluded from formal credit institutions. NGOs. These issues have been research-ed and debated by donor agencies. particularly women empowerment. sustainable community development will be achieved. The involvement in these activities would lead to them become empowered. It has the potential to effectively address material poverty. the discussions are on the functions related to provision of microfinance. among others. initiation of community capacity building and selfreliance. microfinance institutions have addressed the issues of sustainability. increase the knowledge and skills. According to Finger (1994). feminists. the physical deprivation of goods and services and the income to attain them by granting financial services to households who are not supported by the formal banking sector (Sheraton 2004). Microcredit programs provide small loans and savings opportunities to those who have traditionally been excluded from commercial financial services. The “bottom-up approach” in community development would likely bring about empowerment to the community and finally sustainable community development. and act as a network between community and systems. Mayoux (2000) and Cheston and Khan (2002) have pointed out the importance of microfinance in empowerment. develop the local production and local markets. Pankhurst and Johnston 1999). As a development inclusion strategy. In the long run. which is the output of community development. It is currently being promoted as a key development strategy for promoting poverty eradication and economic empowerment. Cerven and Ghazanfar 1999.

In contrast. and (2) understand and deal with their development needs in a broad context and in a sustainable manner. Mahmud 2003). Kabeer 1999. where the intent is to enable others. In fact. Furthermore. A ‘means to an end’. ii. environment. structures. practitioners approach each situation separately to identify pre-existing capacities and develop strategies particular to a program or organization. Langran (2002) has defined capacity building as the ability of one group (NGOs) to strengthen the development abilities of another group (local communities) through education. Before beginning to build capacity within programs. confidence. but also other indicators such as community education.88 HEDAYAT ALLAH NIKKHAH AND MA’ROF BIN REDZUAN and activists (Johnson and Rogaly 1997. In these countries. This is due to the fact that in the Third World countries. from individuals through to government departments. Well-being as an out put of microfinance not only covers the economic indicators. (b) Capacity Building and Sustainable Community Development As mentioned earlier. where the purpose is for others to take on programs. since the wealth of the nation and of most individuals has reached a certain level. Razavi 1997. and promote income generation. to have greater capacity to work together to solve problems iii. NGOs act as a capacity builder to help the . respect. define and achieve objectives. and the over-consumption of natural resources -especially non-renewable (Hibbard and Chuntang 2004). through the provision of education. The microfinance empowers women by putting capital in their hands and allowing them to earn an independent income and contribute financially to their households and communities. human resources (skills. All three microfinance approaches have different goals coupled with varied perspectives on how to incorporate gender into microfinance policy and programs (Mayoux 2000). skill and knowledge. This economic empowerment is expected to generate increased self-esteem. and other forms of empowerment for women beneficiaries. more priority is given on environmental aspect of sustainable development. the deprivation of the natural environment. partnerships and resources. in the developed countries. Frankish (2003) has counted a number of dimensions for community capacity including financial capacity (resources. feminist empowerment. shared trust and bonding). It is related to the quality of life (Asnarulkhadi 2002). In the developing countries. underneath these shared concerns lie three fundamentally different approaches to microfinance: financial sustainability. Some evidence show that microfinance would empower women in some domains such as increased participation in decision making. There is no single way to build capacity. in its time and place. and relational abilities and trust) and social resources (networks. opportunities and knowledge). It can be: i. solve problems. where capacity building strategies are routinely incorporated as an important element of effective practice (NSW Health 2001). and organizations increase their abilities to (1) perform core functions. Although experience tells us that there is a need to work across the key action areas. recreation and accessibility to social services. biodiversity. A process. sustainability is linked more closely to issues of poverty and the gross inequalities of power and resources (Hamnett and Hassan 2003). groups. motivations. In order to gain economic sustainability. NGOs through microfinance help the communities to reduce poverty. more equitable status of women in the family and community. NGOs. Mayoux 2001. create jobs. Capacity building is an approach to development not a set of pre-determined activities. develop the capacity of community towards achieving sustainable development. UNDP (1997) has introduced capacity building as the process by which individuals. skill training and organi-zational support. participation structures. in terms of NGOs’ functions. practitioners need to identify pre-existing capacities such as skills. capacity building is another NGO’s strategy that helps to bring about sustainable community development. the ecological system sometimes conflicts with the socio-economic needs of local people who depend on a local ecosystem for their survival (Nygren 2000). and poverty alleviation. and increased self-esteem (Cheston and Kuhn 2002). An ‘end’ in itself. Capacity building is an approach to development that builds independence. therefore sustainability has been fueled primarily by concern for such issues as climate change. increased political power and rights. However. as Bradshaw and Winn (2000) have noted.

THE ROLE OF NGO’S IN PROMOTING EMPOWERMENT 89 community to develop the resources. self-help. Therefore. There is a potential energy in a community but remains inactive because of the inertia of tradition. According to Korten (1990). needs and issues of a community. knowledge. But this inertia can be broken through the intervention of an outside change agent (NGOs and other agents) who helps the community realize its potentials through education. knowledge. For example. with the intent that benefits will be sustained by community self-help action beyond the period of NGO assistance (Korten 1990). autonomous communities can flourish only in the absence of such external dependency. motivating to participation in project and finally improving the quality of community’s lives. Korten (1990). participation of the indigenous people and rural progress. many issues should be considered. (c) Self-reliance and Sustainable Community Development Self-reliance is another strategy that affects sustainable community development. A self-reliant strategy requires the optional use of all available human. consciousness and awareness. community workers (e. physical resources and stakeholder representativeness. mentioned that the local inertia is the heart of problem in a village or community.g. with regards to sustainability. small loans and the introduction of simple new technologies. such as skills. hope. It is the stress on local self-reliance. Empowerment is discussed at the level of individual empowerment (changes in skills. it should not be a long term objective. Reliance on external resources will lead to the loss of autonomy and independence of the community. Fonchingong and Fonjong (2002) have pointed out that self-reliance is increasingly being adopted as modus operandi for community development. Many researchers argue that building community capacities and fostering empowerment are more effective ways of achieving sustainable community development than programs and success indicators imposed by outside experts (Harrison 1998. to increase the people’s participation in order to achieve sustainable development. Mobbs 1998). . leadership. can facilitate sustainable development of the community. For example. natural and technological resources (Agere 1982). Although dependence on the state maybe desirable in the short term. because the aim of the community development must ultimately be self-reliance. in a program to train women to establish a small enterprise. Selfreliance encourages the necessity for people to use local initiatives. Furthermore. On the other hand. their abilities and their own possessions to improve their condition. action and beliefs in abilities to affect change) and changes in wider social structures and processes that result in increased resources and opportunities (Verity 2007). to attain self-reliance. Effective community development sits on the foundation of self-reliance. In the second generation strategy. through the strategy of self-reliance. The concept of self-reliance is strategically situated within the essence of community development and is related to other concepts like mutual-help. Self-reliant strategy relies on the willingness and ability of the local people to depend on their own available resources and technology which they can control and manage. A link to empowerment is frequently cited as one of the reasons for and outcomes of community capacity building. NGOs. Motivating and mobilizing people to be selfreliant and to participate in development activities become an important objective of the NGOs. They point out that outside experts usually have limited knowledge and understanding of the particular context. capacity building has been identified in much sustainable development policy as one of the key strategies for increasing the potential towards sustainable development. consciousness raising. isolation and lack of education. self-reliance means that the people rely on their own resources and are independent of funds sourced outside the community. building awareness. organization. NGOs) and community groups must discover their own potential and look for ways to innovatively develop such discovered potential to use as sources of wealth for the development of the community (Ife and Tesoriero 2006). the second strategy of the NGOs focuses on developing the capacities of the people to better meet their own needs through self-reliant local action. Therefore. Local solutions to achieving sustainable community and economic development are therefore seen as important outcomes of a capacity-building approach (Lennie 2005). a positive result will be that women have co-operated to start the enterprise. but a sustainable outcome will depend on whether women have the capacity to make it work and derive an income from it without external financial or technical assistance (Viswanath 1991). According to Kelly (1992).

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